Buying from China often gets a bad rap: we’ve all got stories of times we’ve bought something online and received something entirely different in its place or, worse, the item doesn’t arrive at all. But don’t tar Chinese tech with the same brush: Chinese phones now top all our major smartphone charts.
While Huawei without Google services is no longer the attractive proposition it once was in the UK, many other Chinese brands have stepped up to fill its place. From Xiaomi to OnePlus, Oppo, Realme, Vivo and others, these phones typically offer incredible value for money, with the premium build quality and feature set you’d expect from the top Android phones, but at a price point much lower.
Below we’ve assembled some of the best Chinese phones you can buy in the UK today. If these prices are above your budget, also check out some of the best budget Chinese phones.
Best Chinese phones 2021
1. OnePlus 8 Pro – Best Overall
The OnePlus 8 Pro is arguably the company’s first full flagship, finally incorporating long-requested features like wireless charging and an IP68 waterproof rating to make it a genuine contender with Samsung’s top flagships.
Understandably the price has gone up accordingly, but it still represents serious value by flagship standards, and you will save at least some money by opting for OnePlus over most other manufacturers. (The OnePlus costs less still, though you’ll have to give up a few features and downgrade the display and cameras.)
The 8 Pro camera is OnePlus’ best yet, and while it still lags behind rivals slightly in software the hardware is among the best around, which has helped to close the gap considerably. Throw in 5G, a great design, and the best Android skin around and the OnePlus 8 Pro is easy to recommend to anyone who can afford it.
Read our full OnePlus 8 Pro review
2. Oppo Find X2 Pro – Best Performance
The Oppo Find X2 Pro is a phenomenal phone by any measure. The 6.7in, 10-bit, 120Hz, QHD+ panel is the best display in any phone right now, and Oppo backs it up with the fastest wired charging around at 65W, and a top-tier camera that boasts two 48Mp lenses and up to 10x hybrid zoom.
You’ll have to live without wireless charging, and the choice between bland grey ceramic or garish orange vegan leather finishes might leave some struggling to find a design that suits their style.
For pure performance though, the Find X2 Pro can’t be beat right now, with all of the above plus a Snapdragon 865 5G, 512GB storage, and 12GB RAM – you just have to be willing to pay the price, as it doesn’t come cheap.
Read our full Oppo Find X2 Pro review
3. Realme X50 Pro – Best Value Flagship
Realme’s first 5G flagship (and second-ever flagship phone) is an impressively affordable device that doesn’t skimp on high-end specs and features.
The Realme X50 Pro forgoes aspects like IP water resistance and a thin body, but in return sports the latest and greatest Snapdragon 865 chipset, 5G, up to 12GB of RAM, fast UFS 3.0 storage and insane 65W ‘SuperDart’ fast charging, which delivers 60% charge in just 15 minutes and a full charge in only 35.
Best of all, the X50 Pro costs around half that of most top-tier Android flagships.
Read our full Realme X50 Pro review
4. Xiaomi Poco X3 NFC – Best Value Overall
The Poco X3 isn’t perfect. The big battery makes it bulky, we don’t love the aesthetic, and not everyone will find MIUI 12 immediately intuitive. For the most part these are small complaints though, especially when stacked up against the X3’s myriad strengths: strong specs, an excellent camera, a beautiful display, and absolutely fantastic battery life.
The fact that you can get all of that for under £200 is almost unbelievable, and makes the Poco X3 a shoo-in for the best budget phone of 2020.
Read our full Xiaomi Poco X3 NFC review
5. Xiaomi Mi 10T Pro – Best Premium Mid-Ranger
This Chinese phone is now one of our top recommendations in Xiaomi’s line, if not quite up there with Mi 10 and Mi 10 Pro. We’d love to see an OLED panel, wireless charging and some refinements to the design, but these are all sacrifices we are prepared to make for what appears to be a very strong overall package that comes at a lower cost.
Xiaomi majors on value with Mi 10T Pro, carefully balancing cost-cutting with awe-inspiring. The powerful Snapdragon 865 processor, the 144Hz display, the 108MP camera, the incredible battery power and the 5G connectivity: these are all specs that have no business in the mid-range.
The on-paper specs of Mi 10T Pro are simply unbeatable among its peers.
Read our full Xiaomi Mi 10T Pro review
6. OnePlus Nord – Best Mid-range Phone
The OnePlus Nord is the best mid-range phone in the world right now. It looks and feels like a phone twice its price, with a display and main camera lens to match.
The 765G processor more than holds its own, and all of the camera lenses are solid except the forgettable macro shooter.
More importantly, you won’t find better at this price, or a better selection of the priority features for most users on a budget, with luxuries like wireless charging or an OTT 120Hz refresh rate ditched in favour of a focus on the fundamentals.
The Nord would be a good buy at £100 more – at this price, it’s a steal.
Read our full OnePlus Nord review
7. Vivo X50 Pro+ – Best Camera
The X50 Pro+ delivers one of the strongest camera setups you’ll find outside of an iPhone or a Huawei device. The new Samsung sensor is put to good use, with fantastic photos in both daylight and using night mode, while the telephoto setup is also top-tier. Only the ultrawide disappoints at all, but only because it’s merely good rather than excellent.
Throw in impeccable specs and perhaps our favourite design and finish all year – all at a competitive price – and the Vivo X50 Pro+ should be easy to recommend. It’s really only the software side that lets it down, worsened by the fact that most of us would have to import the phone from China to ever get our hands on one.
But if you’re willing to put in that effort, the X50 Pro+ really is one of the best phones of the year, gimbal or no gimbal.
Read our full Vivo X50 Pro+ review
8. Realme 7 – Best Budget Phone
The competition is too fierce for the Realme 7 to claim the best budget phone crown that its predecessor wore for so long. But don’t hold that against it too much.
This still offers phenomenal value for money, with strong performance and all-round specs packed into an attractive design at an affordable price.
We’re a little disappointed by the camera, and wouldn’t recommend anyone buy the base model with 4GB RAM, but beyond that there’s not much to complain about here.
Do note there is also a Realme 7 Pro version.
Read our full Realme 7 review
9. Xiaomi Redmi Note 9S – Best Battery Life
The Redmi Note 9S is one of the best budget phones we’ve seen. This is a fantastic phone for less than £200, a real all-rounder with decent performance and cameras, as well as mind-blowing battery life. The Redmi recorded the longest time in the Geekbench 4 battery life test that we’ve seen to date.
We are not fans of the rear camera module, and the lack of NFC in some territories is a shame, but those niggles aside it ticks all our boxes at this price point.
This is a fine example of not a lot of money, very well spent.
Read our full Xiaomi Redmi Note 9S review
10. Nubia Red Magic 5S – Best Gaming Phone
The Red Magic 5G was undeniably one of the best gaming phones on the market, and this upgrade to it is almost identical but makes a few tweaks and removes some of our frustrations with the in-display fingerprint sensor. Its 144Hz display and stereo speakers are among the best in their class.
The phone is targeted squarely at mobile gamers and as such, some aspects are less well suited to mainstream users. All things considered, however, the Red Magic 5S offers everything budding gamers are looking for, not to mention 5G speeds, at a price that means it’s hard to resist.
Read our full Nubia Red Magic 5S review
Today it’s easier than ever to get hold of Chinese phones in the UK, with many of the big names now officially retailing here. This means you no longer need to rely on Chinese stockists such as GearBest and Geekbuying to import Chinese phones – though you will very often still find cheaper prices when you do. (Do keep in mind that when importing phones from China to the UK you are liable for import duty at 20% of the value on the shipping paperwork.)
Oppo is listed at Carphone Warehouse, while Xiaomi and OnePlus phones are often offered on contract by the UK’s major mobile operators, but often when buying a Chinese phone you will need to get a SIM-free model and then pair it with a SIM-only plan. This is more cost-effective in the long run, but does mean you have to pay the full price of the phone up front.
Lower down the smartphone food chain there are countless other Chinese brands you’ll likely not have heard of, for example UMIDIGI and Bluboo, Ulefone and Elefone, Oukitel and Meizu. On paper the specifications of their phones impress, but you’ll often find corners are cut in the specifications to keep down prices – they might swap in lower-power MediaTek processors and large but lower-resolution displays, for example, while NFC, wireless charging and waterproofing are rare.
On the plus side, Chinese phones pretty much always support dual-SIM (dual-standby), and often will provide this in addition to expandable storage. As they strive to mimic the market leaders, design and build quality of Chinese phones tend to be very high.